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Vicki Clark, president of the New Jersey Tourism Industry Association.

South Jersey’s seasonal businesses depend on the Summer Work Travel Program, which brings overseas college students to New Jersey to fill the temporary summer jobs at boardwalk businesses and amusement parks because there aren’t enough local teenagers available to hire.

But the bottleneck in processing the J-1 temporary travel visas international students need to work in New Jersey during their college break is hamstringing the Garden State’s $46.6 billion summer tourism season before it even starts, says New Jersey Tourism Industry Association President Vicki Clark.

“The current problem is that international students cannot get their visa appointments,” said Clark, the president of the New Jersey Tourism Industry Association, during the recent New Jersey Business Coalition’s recent online Town Hall about challenges facing Garden State businesses.

“Many embassies remain closed to short-term visa applicants eager to visit the United States for their summer work travel experience,” Clark said. “They are being told they may not get their interview until May, June or July. In a typical year, 70% of students coming to the U.S. are confirmed by the end of April. So, you see time is of the essence to secure this program for this year.”

Typically, about 5,000 overseas students came to New Jersey in the summertime to work at boardwalk businesses, amusement parks, federal parks or as lifeguards at local swimming pools, Clark said. When the Summer Work Travel Program was cancelled last year due to the pandemic, many local businesses had to reduce operating hours by as much as 50% due to staffing challenges, she said.

“In a tourism driven economy, everyone is dependent on the success of the summer work travel program,” Clark said, pointing out that it’s not just the businesses that hire international students that feel the impact when the Summer Work Travel Program is lost.

“For example, businesses on the Wildwood boardwalk may not hire international students, but they set their hours of operation around businesses like Morey’s Piers, which is a summer work travel employer,” Clark said. “If Morey’s Piers is not adequately staffed and must limit their hours of operation, businesses around them will close early, or may not even open at all, and local employees are directly impacted by that with loss of hours or even loss of jobs.”

Clark said the New Jersey Tourism Industry Association has partnered with other national and state business groups, including the New Jersey Business Coalition and NJBIA, in asking the Biden administration to resolve the problem at U.S. embassies quickly in order to save the Summer Work Travel Program for the summer 2021 season.

“For the business community, every day that goes by without restoring this program to its full capacity is critical,” Clark said.

More than 100 people, including state lawmakers, took part in the New Jersey Business Coalition’s online meeting on March 18.